The Mysterious Human Feet in the Salish Sea

In August 2007, a Washington woman made a grisly discovery on Jedadiah Island, a Canadian provincial park in the middle of the Salish Sea. On picking up a man’s running shoe washed up on the beach, she found a severed foot still inside. Since then, at least 20 more detached human feet have been found on beaches and shallow waters throughout the Salish Sea, invariably without the rest of the body being found. Only a small number of the feet found have ever been positively identified.

The Salish Sea is a complex network of coastal channels and islands on the Pacific coast of North America, incorporating parts of the US state of Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia. Much of the coast of the Salish is made up of the sprawling, border-straddling super-city known as Cascadia that includes both Seattle and Vancouver.

After the first foot was found on the 20th August 2007, wearing a men’s, size 12 Adidas running shoe, a second was found just six days later on Gabriola Island, close to the US city of Nanaimo. Again a men’s size 12 running shoe, this time a Reebok, the foot appeared to have been carried ashore by an animal before being found by a Canadian couple. Unlike the first foot found, which was eventually identified as belonging to suspected suicide victim, the second foot has never been identified.

Five more feet were found during 2008. After a foot belonging to a 21-year old man missing since 2004 was found in February, a female foot was discovered on Kirkland Island on the 16th May. This was also later identified as coming from a woman who had committed suicide by jumping off the Pattullo Bridge in New Westminster. The other foot from both of these individuals were subsequently found later the same year, with the male foot found by hikers of Westham Island in July, followed by the female foot found floating in the Fraser River near Richmond in November.

The Patullo Bridge in New Westminster. Image: Dennis Hurd

Between these two discoveries, the first foot to be found in the US rather than Canada was discovered near the small Washington community of Pysht.

One further foot was found in October 2009, still wearing a men’s Nike running shoe, again near Richmond. It was eventually found to be that of a Vancouver man who had been missing for over 18 months. The discoveries continued in 2010, with feet from two different individuals, both thought to be children, were found in Washington. The first of these marks the only time that a foot has been found not wearing a running shoe or hiking boot. Neither have been identified.

Further unidentified feet were found floating in False Creek, British Columbia and in Lake Union, Seattle. A discovery of a man’s left foot, housed in a size 12 walking boot, was identified as belonging to fisherman Stefan Zahorujko, who had been missing since 1987. This marked the last time that a victim was identified until January 2019.

Boot belonging to missing fisherman Stefan Zahorujko. Image: BC Coroner’s Service

Between 2012 and 2018, seven more unidentified feet were found, with two found five days apart on Vancouver Island proving to have come from the same individual. The final discovery took place on January 1st 2019, where a booted foot was found by beachcombers on Jetty Island, a man-made island and state park close to Everett, Washington. It was identified using DNA as being that of Antonio Neill, a Washington man who had been missing since 2016.

A number of different explanations have been offered as to why so many human feet have been discovered in the Salish Sea, particularly when no other body parts have been found. Speculation that the feet may have originated from a boating accident or plane crash has been put forward. Four men were killed in a plane crash in the area in 2005, who may account for some of the unidentified appendages. Others have suggested human interference, with the feet coming from victims of a serial killer or human traffickers that dumped bodies into the water.

The likely reality is far less sinister. All of the identified victims are believed to have either accidentally drowned or taken their own life. The fact that all but one of the feet have been found still wearing relatively buoyant footwear is also likely to play a part in the phenomenon. After an extended period in the water, feet become detached from the rest of the body at the relatively weak ankle joint, with the feet continuing to float while the rest of the corpse sinks. Bodies are thought to be able to remain intact in the cold waters of the Salish for up to three decades and can drift up to 1,000 miles, making it extremely difficult to pinpoint a date and location that a person may have entered the water. 

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